Apostle Stephen the Protomartyr

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St. Stephen

The holy, glorious, all-laudable Apostle Stephen the Protomartyr was an early Christian convert from among the Hellenistic Jews, one of the original seven deacons ordained by the Apostles, and the first martyr of the Orthodox Church. The Church remembers the martyrdom of St. Stephen on December 27, and the translations of his relics on August 2, as well as commemorating him on June 15 with Ss. Fortunatus and Achaicus.

Association of the origins of the Saints name with his honour in the Church

Στέφανος,n {stef'-an-os} The definitions presented for the name 'Stephen' are:

1) A crown, which is a:
a) Mark of royal or exalted rank;
- the wreath or garland which was given as a prize to victors in public games;
b) metaph. the eternal blessedness which will be given as a prize to the genuine servants of God and Christ - the crown (wreath) which is the reward of the righteousness;
c) that which is an ornament and honour to one.


St. Stephen was a Jew living in the Hellenic provinces, related to the Apostle Paul and one of the first seven deacons ordained by the Apostles to serve the Church in Jerusalem (thus making him an archdeacon). The Holy Spirit worked powerfully through his faith, enabling him to perform many miracles and always defeat the Jews who would dispute with him. The Jews in their hatred of St. Stephen lied about him to the people, but St. Stephen with his face illumined reminded the people of the miracles God had worked through him and even rebuked the Jews for killing the innocent Christ.

The people were enraged by what they thought was blasphemy and 'gnashed their teeth' at Stephen. It was then that he saw his Christ in the heavens and declared it so. Hearing this, the Jews took him outside the city and stoned him to death, with his kinsman Saul (later St. Paul) holding their coats while they did it. Afar off on a hill was the Virgin Mary and St. John the Theologian who witnessed this first martyrdom for the Son of God and prayed for him while he was being stoned. This occurred about a year after the first Pentecost.

When the Jews stoned St. Stephen, they left his body at the foothill of the city for two days to be eaten by dogs. But on the second night, Gamaliel—teacher of the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Barnabas—came and moved the body to his own land in Capharganda. Nicodemus, who died while weeping at this grave, was also buried there along with Gamaliel's godson Abibus and Gamaliel himself upon his repose.

After many years the memory of St. Stephen's burial place had left the minds of men, until 415 when Gamaliel appeared three times to Father Lucian, priest at Capharganda. He revealed to Fr. Lucian the place of his burial and everything about it. Fr. Lucian received the blessing of the Patriarch to exhume the saints from their grave where a strong, sweet fragrance filled the cave.

St. Stephen's relics were translated to Zion and honorably buried, and many of the sick were healed by his relics. The other three relics were placed inside a church atop the cave on a hill. Eventually, his relics were translated to Constantinople.

Characteristics of St Stephen

Using the original Greek text a portrait of St Stephen's personality can be painted through the Acts of the Apostles.

Listed, in order, these characteristics are:

1. ἄνδρας (Acts 6:5)
This word (man) shows not only his gender but also shows his disposition as a person. It shows that he was ...
2. πλήρης πίστεως (Acts 6:5)
3. πλήρης Πνεύματος Ἁγίου (Acts 6:5, 7:55)
4. He was full of unmeasurable and rare zeal.
5. δεινὸς συζητητὴς καὶ θεολόγος (Acts 6:10)
6. θεόπτης (7:55)
7. μεταμορφωμένος ἀπὸ τὸ ἄκτιστο φῶς τοῦ Θεοῦ (Acts 6:15)


Troparion (Tone 4) [1]

O Protomartyr and mighty warrior of Christ our God,
You are victorious in battle and crowned with glory, O holy Stephen!
You confounded the council of your persecutors,
Beholding your Savior enthroned at the right hand of the Father.
Never cease to intercede for the salvation of our souls!

Kontakion (Tone 3) [2]

Yesterday the Master assumed our flesh and became our guest;
Today His servant is stoned to death and departs in the flesh,
The glorious Protomartyr Stephen.


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